Alaska's young people need to lead the way on dealing with climate change

As a young person living in Alaska, climate change will have a strong impact on my future in this state. Alaska, as the only arctic and subarctic region in the U.S., is on the front line of climate change. The warming happening here is twice as fast as it is in the Lower 48, and with our unique systems of glaciers and permafrost we have a lot to lose. The temperatures are rising more and more each year, and so are the risks of flooding, drought, disease and other weather irregularities.

These occurrences can cost millions in property and road damage, and have a devastating effect on human life. The effects of climate change will only worsen if they are left unchecked, and the futures of my peers and I, as well as our future children, will be put at risk. Every Alaskan has the power to make a difference, and all it takes is the decision to do so.

On Aug. 3, President Barack Obama and the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy, announced the Clean Power Plan. The CPP is a historic step forward in action on climate change, establishing for the first time standards to limit carbon emissions in power plants. The goal of the CPP is to reduce carbon emission levels by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, and offers flexible implementation plans to different states with different needs. Alaska is ranked fourth in the nation in per capita carbon emissions, and Alaskans should make it a personal mission to be more responsible with the emissions we release from our utilities. Thirty percent of it comes from our own homes, and while that may not seem like a lot, cutting that number through renewable energy efforts could work wonders on cleaning up the bad air quality we see in cities like Fairbanks.

The CPP is a great step forward to a cleaner energy future, but Alaska has been deferred. This means we will fall behind other states in implementing the first real restrictions on power plant emissions, even though the effects of emissions are felt most strongly here. Alaska was deferred because the EPA felt Alaska's situation is unique for many reasons, one of them is our utilities are not as interconnected as power grids in other states, so it would be unreasonable to try and develop a complex system of reductions here.

Alaska should also be held to the reduction requirements, but given a plan to do, so that it is tailored to our state's specific needs. We have the ability and the opportunity to reduce carbon emissions in our state. There are many renewable energy programs Alaska could use, including the Renewable Energy Fund and the Independent System Operator. Currently, there's a bill floating through state Legislature to create the ISO, and once passed it will allow each grid system to be controlled by one entity, which will make renewable energy much cheaper to transport and therefore more practical in the far reaches of Alaska.

The best way we can help solve the energy problems of our state is if the younger generation, my peers, help take an active role in making our state a clean, efficient place to live. We will be the ones to inherit both the innovative technologies of our predecessors and the carbon pollution. We can be the generation to halt climate change in its tracks, and make the world a clean place for our own children to live in. Alaskans have the power to clean up our state, and it's up to us to urge our community leaders to take action. To help put us in the right direction, the Alaska Center for the Environment is hosting "Clean Power Future," which is a series of presentations and a panel about the future of Alaska's Energy Economy and the challenges Alaska faces on the advancement of clean energy. The first event is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Alaska Experience Theater. The community is welcome to join in and discuss how the state can move forward on lowering our carbon emissions while being exempt from the CPP.

Hannah Hartwell is a senior at Dimond High School in Anchorage and an intern at the Alaska Center for the Environment, where she is helping to educate the community on environmental issues.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com

Hannah Hartwell

Hannah Hartwell, 18, is a Dimond High School senior doing an internship with the Alaska Center for the Environment, where she is working to educate the community about environmental problems.